Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency's director of Katrina Relief Operations -- told reporters in New Orleans Wednesday rescue and recovery operations are almost over.
Allen acknowledged the issue of recovering remains is sensitive for families who have lost loved ones, and said the search operation is employing "the strictest protocol" for handling remains.
"We are mindful of the dignity that needs to be accorded to these remains," he said.
Allen said remains are being transported to a Disaster Portable Morgue Unit, where dental X-rays, DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs are taken to help identify the victims. Remains are decontaminated and checked for signs that something other than storm-related causes might have contributed to death -- in which case autopsies could be ordered.
All remains will be given what Allen called a "ceremonial symbolic washing of the body as observed in Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths."